isp

Ever since Edward Snowden took off with a cache of top secret NSA documents, and revealed to the world how un-private online user data really was, there has been an obsession with staying private online.

That obsession for privacy was protected by the then-Democratic leadership of the FCC who formulated rules last year to that effect.

republicans

But now all of that work may have been thrown under the bus by the now Republican-dominated US Senate’s decision to scrap those privacy rules. The new rules would allow ISP’s to sell your private online data to the highest bidder without obtaining your consent first. In fact you would never know it had been done.

Opponents say if Congress and President Trump refuse to oppose the Senate’s move, then the term ISP will change from Internet Service Provider to Information Sold For Profit. Or as one Democratic senator put it Invading Subscriber Privacy (is there a competition to come up with the best one?).

Because despite blustering explanations by supporters of the new rules about how it will “protect consumers”, all it really amounts to is a smash-and-grab by ISP’s such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T.

As the saying goes, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.

So how can you put a spoke in the wheels of your ISP’s devious plans to make a few extra bucks at your expense?

Option 1 – Give Them False & Misleading Information

paper bag

I have two birthdays – my real birthday and my Internet birthday. My real birthday was when the world was first blessed with my presence. My Internet birthday is just a random date I decided upon when filling out online forms and signing up for services.

ISP’s are obviously counting on your information being correct. That is what makes the information so valuable to marketing companies and anyone else willing to cut ISP’s a check. So when you are signing up for an ISP or an online service, do the following :

  • Instead of your real birthday, make one up.
  • Mis-spell your name slightly. Mark becomes Marc. Donald becomes Dunald, etc. If queried upon later, you can always insist it was an administrative error on their part.
  • Instead of signing up under your name, set up a bland-sounding LLC and sign up with your ISP under that.
  • Give them a burner phone number instead of your real number, or refuse to give a number at all.
  • Set up a disposable throwaway anonymous email address just for ISP correspondence.

Basically make the information they gather on you totally useless. They obviously won’t know that, but you will, and by doing so, you get to preserve some of your privacy.

Option 2 – Use a Virtual Private Network

tunnelbear

Virtual Private Networks (VPN) used to be the exclusive domain of the geeks, but ever since the Snowden revelations, they have become more popular and mainstream with ordinary users. VPN’s have responded to this increased need by simplifying how they work, as well as making their services very affordable.

A lot of VPN’s give you a free tier such as 500MB a month, which is not enough to watch BBC iPlayer, but it IS enough to check your email or Facebook. Some, such as Tunnelbear, give you extra MB’s free per month if you tweet or Facebook about them, and I’m sure other VPN companies do this too.

But if you are REALLY serious about your privacy, you are going to have to open up your wallet and pay for a VPN (generally around $5 a month is the going rate). Paid plans come with unlimited usage, and you are also supporting the service, keeping it financially afloat.

A VPN basically re-diverts your traffic to the servers of the VPN company in another country. So my normal IP address locates me in Germany (which is where I am). But if I switch on the VPN and choose, for example, Japan, my IP address will now change to a Japanese one, owned by the VPN company.

tunnelbear vpn

Your real IP address will remain masked and untraceable by authorities. The downside is that there may be a slight decrease in your Internet speed, since it has to go through another server.

To guarantee your privacy, VPN’s do not keep any logs of who used what and when. This means that if the US Government came knocking on the door of the VPN company with a FISA warrant, the VPN can give them nothing, because they have literally nothing.

Even so, it would still be advisable to choose a VPN outside the US, say in Canada, which puts it outside the jurisdiction of the US Patriot Act.

I use Tunnelbear, which I absolutely love and recommend. But there are so many options. A simple Google search will give you limitless options. Just compare plans and see which one gives you the best value for money.

Then browse the Internet, smug in the knowledge that your ISP is selling worthless information about you.

Let us know in the comments below about what you think of this fantastic new plan to “protect consumers”.

“HTTPS Browser” by Yuri Samoilov is licensed under CC BY 2.0, “Paper Bag People by the Real People Theatre” by NCVO London is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Mark O'Neill
Freelance journalist and editor living in Würzburg, Germany. Former Managing Editor of makeuseof.com (2007-2013), and contributing writer for other sites such as PC World and Small Business Trends. Specializing in online security and privacy issues.